Northeast South Dakota Community Action Program (aka GROW South Dakota)

Report date
November 2015

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

1. Initial Community Engagement in each of the five communities which included presenting the results of the formal Housing Study and resident voting for local housing initiatives. During these community meetings the residents were able to voice ideas and suggestions for future solutions. Builders/Contractors were provided supporting information that enabled them to make confident decisions to move forward immediately in some cases (e.g. A Webster contractor built a spec house). Community members began working on research, education and implementing change in their community by completing revitalization efforts.
2. Community Housing Groups - Small groups of committed individuals were established to find and implement housing solutions. These small initiative groups have been meeting on a regular basis. Monthly, and sometimes more often, community members meet to establish next steps and successes. Through these meetings, GROW SD was able to send a coach and six individuals to the NeighborWorks America Community Leadership Institute which provided national-level training and education surrounding communities, leadership and housing insights. This information was brought back to the community small groups where they began implementing action plans and further discussion around success in their communities.
3. 1st Impression Tours - This initiative is being implemented with one leader from each community and GROW SD Coach. This peer-to-peer initiative will provide an impartial and honest opinion of each leader’s first impression of the five communities through written comments on a survey template that examines a community from four geographic entrances and other key pieces of the community such as Main Street, Industry, Housing, Signage, Green Space, Curb Appeal, etc. This information once compiled for each community will be a tool for the communities to begin a generative discussion when developing goals for a master community plan.

Key lessons learned

1. Key lesson #1 – Reaching out to those residents that “normally” are not at local meetings. As groups, we tried to continue to provide information, resources and other community successes, keeping the community goals in front of every discussion. It has been important that we “Celebrate the Wins”, no matter how small or insignificant it may appear. These little bets are stepping stone that may be vital to a larger, more impactful change.
2. Key lesson #2 - While having five communities in the group is a very good collection of success stories it is also very difficult to engage local leadership and the communities because of different levels of involvement, other priorities or regular job duties. The connections created by the five community’s local leadership are strong in economic development, but the daunting task of solving housing issues is a risk that few want to take. It appears that if there is not a full-time organizational staff in the community working on housing initiatives and keeping residents on task, then progress does not happen as quickly. While there is the initial spark of enthusiasm after the initial community meeting, months later, some of the communities are still not as engaged, challenged at the thought of nothing large being developed. I believe that there are community members that truly want to be active, but do not have the continual support from an already over committed staff and/or disengaged community.

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

Resourceful - Resources from within the community have been utilized. Through support and determination, individual residents have used their unique skills to work together to obtain solutions to the overwhelming tasks surrounding housing. Since the community engagement sessions, several housing ventures have sparked community support, both financial and technical. Efforts have been coordinated by individuals to obtain external resources to address the individual community needs. Internal resources have been captured through leadership roles, volunteerism and housing repair projects. One project was a painting project where the community members provided the labor and GROW SD and SDHDA provided materials. This is a culmination of community skills and external financial resources. Other areas of resourcefulness include GROW SD has been able to leverage financial resources to implement the 1st Impressions Tour peer-to-peer initiative; provide training for community members to attend the NeighborWorks Community Leadership institute; and requesting a grant for communities who attended the CLI to launch a project.

Other key elements of Community Innovation

Quote from a community resident, “Thanks for the boost of confidence! This is the first committee that I’ve taken the lead on and am realizing it might be a challenge for me. Thanks for being there to back me up!”

Key Element #1 is Leadership - This quote was in an email sent to the coach from one of the leaders in the community during the early in the stages of the initiative. Because Grow Housing created an opportunity for this resident to serve, the community is now stronger and has utilized many of the resources available to enhance the best qualities in their community. The leadership displayed has been key to their success.

Key Element #2 is Listening - Another community member commented, “Thank you for your time to just have a dialog with me.” When time is taken to listen to the hopes, dreams and possibilities each community member has for its town, it strengthens their support which in turn provides the fuel to thrust to the next level.

Understanding the problem

Based on this process, each community has been able to find solutions and address initiatives that may not have been considered, if they had not seen it through another community’s experience. Sharing ideas the good, bad and ugly of housing. What one community found as a failure, ultimately was a success as it was shared with others to gain knowledge of a better process. From the ideas and process it became apparent that housing has many interconnections throughout the community, via workforce development, healthy living, quality of life, economic development as well as strengthening the core being in a community. While housing may be viewed as a physical structure in a community, the role it plays to the individual and community is vital for vibrancy. Some of the communities now have other groups working on different aspects that tie back to housing.

If you could do it all over again...

Learn to “herd cats”…When discussing housing, everyone has their own opinion and expectations from the community and individual perspective. One of the key leaders of a community sent me a statement – “Thank you for herding the ….cats”. This demonstrated the need of the community to have a coach keep them focused on the identified goals for the community.

One last thought

The Grow Housing initiative continues to provide communities with the resilience and determination needed to remain vibrant. As demonstrated in the Bush Foundation’s Community Innovation diagram, there are ups and downs for each topic in the loop. Sometimes the loop does not automatically continue on to the next loop, it remains going around in circles, which may be needed to provide enough momentum to thrust it forward to the next loop with a stronger force to continue going ahead.